Experimental, digital, conventional: Education and Digital Cultures

iStock [jastrijebphoto]
iStock [jastrijebphoto]
The Education and Digital Cultures (EDC) course is concerned with the ways that digital cultures intersect with educational cultures online. Through the themes of cyber-culture, community culture and algorithmic culture the course considers how our practices as teachers and learners are informed by various interpretations of digital culture.

The EDC course is part of the MSc in Digital Education and is delivered wholly online, whilst also being publicly viewable on the web. In place of the discussion board and learning management systems that are synonymous with online learning, conversation on the EDC course takes place in overtly social and public spaces: tutorials in Google Hangouts; a film festival in Togethertube; weekly summaries in WordPress. Enrolling on the course also means joining a collective experiment in being part of the web.

A screenshot of Chenée Psaros’ lifestream blog
A screenshot of Chenée Psaros’ lifestream blog

When it comes to assessment, students are challenged to think critically about the changing nature of authorship and scholarship within digital environments (see for instance Bayne 2006; Lea 2013). For the duration of the course, students maintain a lifestream blog where, using an aggregation service, they curate their online traces before posting weekly summaries which reflect on what their networked presence says about the nature of digital education and culture. In addition, the digital essay invites students to explore a course theme through networked media or digital form, often resulting in work that is simultaneously imaginative, playful and scholarly. Recent assignment titles have included: ‘A Conversation of Movement using Algorithms and Digital Space in Education’, ‘Remixed: Theory and Authorship in Online Learning Communities’,  ‘The Future of Higher Education’ and the ‘Big Data Imaginary’.

Sitting alongside these assignments are formative, course-themed activities: the production of a visual artefact in response to cyber-cultures discourse; a mini-ethnography of a digital community; an activity that reverse-engineers an algorithm.

Nigel Painting’s visual artefact in response to cyber-culture
Nigel Painting’s visual artefact in response to cyber-culture

If this all sounds like a departure from traditional pedagogy, the EDC course depends on teaching approaches that are firmly established as ‘best practice’ around assessment and feedback. The weekly blog summary provides regular opportunities for feedback, including an opportunity to discuss plans and expectations around assessment (see for example Keppell & Carless 2006). The themed activities encourage students to try out ideas in a low-stakes but meaningful setting (e.g Hounsell et al. 2007). The public nature of the course exposes students to the work of their peers (see for instance Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick 2006). Therefore, for all that the EDC course celebrates and encourages experimentation, it is underpinned by teaching strategies that are conventional and established.

Crucially, this mix of the experimental with the conventional has been well received by students who have responded with thoughtful, imaginative and critical assignments on the topics of movement and algorithms, remixing authorship, the big data imaginary, and other exciting topics beyond.

The Education and Digital Cultures course is taught by Jeremy Knox and James Lamb, both from the Centre for Research in Digital Education. The EDC course has been nominated for the Best Course Award in the 2017-18 Edinburgh University StudentsAssociation Teaching Awards. 


Bayne, S. (2016). Temptation, Trash and Trust: The Authorship and Authority of Digital Texts. E-Learning and Digital Media, 3(1), 16-26. doi:10.2304/elea.2006.3.1.16

Hounsell, D., Xu, R. and Tai, C.M. (2007). Balancing Assessment of and Assessment for Learning. (Scottish EnhancementThemes: Guides to Integrative Assessment, no.2). Gloucester:

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Keppell, M., & Carless, D. (2006). Learning-oriented assessment: A technology-based case study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 13(2), 179-191.

Lea, M. R. (2013). Reclaiming literacies: competing textual practices in a digital higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(1), 106-118. doi:10.1080/13562517.2012.756465

Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. doi:10.1080/03075070600572090

James Lamb

James Lamb is an ESRC-funded Doctoral Student within the Centre for Research in Digital Education, in the Moray House School of Education. His research concerns the ways that teaching, learning and assessment are affected by the pedagogic and societal shift to the digital.

He tutors on the Education and Digital Cultures and Assessment and Digital Education courses within the MSc in Digital Education.




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